Research projects

Uncovering how breast cancer recruits healthy cells to grow and spread

Dr Michael Samuel
Project period
January 2022 - December 2024
Research Institute
University of South Australia
Cancer types
Breast cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Dr Michael Samuel and his team are studying how breast tumours recruit healthy cells that help the cancer grow and spread to other parts of the body. They hope that understanding how those cells work together will reveal new ways to stop breast cancer progressing.

Hope for the future

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the world. In 2020, almost 685,000 women died of breast cancer around the world. When breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it becomes very difficult to treat and sadly there is currently no cure for breast cancer once this happens.

Breast tumours are able to recruit healthy cells that help it grow and spread. Dr Samuel and his team have been studying how breast tumours affect the tissues and cells around them. The researchers now aim to understand how those healthy cells are recruited, in the hope of finding new therapeutic targets to stop breast cancer progressing.


Meet the scientist

Dr Michael Samuel has been interested in science since he was young, having first been inspired by his grandfather who taught him all about glass lenses and light. He now uses advanced microscopy techniques in his work as a cancer biologist. Outside of the lab, Dr Samuel enjoys playing music – he plays the piano, violin, and the organ!

The science

Breast tumours recruit healthy cells, called fibroblasts, that help the tumour grow and the cancer to spread to other parts of the body. Previous research by Dr Samuel and his team identified that a protein in cancer cells, called ROCK, drives progression of the disease by recruiting fibroblasts to the tumour. They have also discovered that the “stiffness” of the environment around the tumour is controlled by the ROCK protein, and this can contribute to tumour progression. In addition, most breast cancers that progress and spread around the body seem to have a lot of ROCK protein.

The researchers now aim to understand how the ROCK protein interacts with the “stiffness” of the tumour to help it grow and spread. They will use a mouse model of breast cancer to test whether blocking this interaction with antibodies can prevent breast cancer progression. If successful, the team hopes that their findings could be investigated further as drug targets to treat the growth and spread of breast cancer.

Imagine trying to repair a car without any understanding of how it is put together. We would just keep blindly trying different things until something works. The situation is much the same with cancer - we can’t cure what we don’t understand. Discovery research provides us with information on how cancer works and helps us to design clever ways to cure it.
Dr Michael Samuel

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